Patricia & Rémi Bonneton - L’Alezan Suspens NV

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Étables, Ardèche, France
Marsanne & Roussanne
Fermented with native yeasts, unfiltered & unfined, no additional sulphites
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Imported by Wayward. The latest bottling of Patricia & Remi's more serious domaine wine under the L'Alezan label. Suspens is a blend of Marsanne & Roussane from a tiny parcel just a stone's throw away from the river bend where the iconic appellations of the Northern Rhône all converge. As such this wine feels cut from that distinctive cloth, albeit one of the more expressive examples we have tried.

The vines are between 5 and 25 years in age and are planted over a mixture of loess and decomposed granite. An ongoing blend of vintages since the wine's beginning, this year 2017, 18, 19 & 20 are all in the mix. The elevage is carried out in a sort of simplified solera system - the grapes were first direct-pressed in whole bunches then raised in a mixture of demi-muid barrels and clay tinaja for at least a year. The wine is then fed back into a small row of these clay pots with the wine from the preceding years. It's a fascinating, perpetually evolving thing.

As is the style of the region, we have a powerful, textured white wine with a robust, chiselled structure, the ripe, curvy stone fruits and anise spices balanced with a distinct mineral clarity and well-poised acidity. A very special wine that we have no doubt is built to go the distance, and while drinking well now, has the potential to be cellared for decades to come. As Patricia & Remi have pointed out, few in the Northern Rhône vinify with no suphur at all. Suspens ranks with wines from the likes of Domaine des Miquettes as some of the most expressive of the region. Little over 1000 bottles made.

Rémi Bonneton started working the vineyards of the Northern Rhône in the early 2000s, not tending vines or harvesting grapes, but working with his two horses, Suspens and Palynka, offering his unique services to plough the soils at some of the most coveted domaines in this part of France. After making a little of his own wine along the way, cut to 2013 and Rémi and Patricia, his wife, found their very first vineyard parcel of Syrah on the steep slopes of the Doux Valley right at the very northern tip of the Ardèche, which despite the sheer terracing is still worked à la Bonneton: by horse and plough. It’s physical, demanding work and no light undertaking - perfect for Rémi who in his previous life was a professional rower. Their domaine totals just under 2 hectares and includes another parcel close to Tournon Sur Rhône planted with Roussanne and Marsanne on a hill straddling the border to the Northern Rhône that sits opposite the iconic vineyards of Cornas and Saint-Joseph. The vines see no chemical treatments and this approach is followed into the cellar where the wines ferment spontaneously and have nothing added. The wine using grapes from these vineyards is bottled as L’Alezan. As they start to work towards their ambitious visions for the future (a big conversion build for their own cellars at their farmhouse in Étables, an experimental planting of Albariño, acquiring more parcels) they buy grapes from other growers further afield to up their production - these wines are bottled as La Tangente.